A Question of Colour

Bishop Of Auckland
Red Snapdragon
Red Arctotis

Until last week I would have said I loved red in the garden. I would have felt no need to qualify this. Dahlia ‘Bishop of Auckland’ is one of my favourite plants. I love the Arctotis I have grown in pots this year, but by far my favourite is the deep orangey red one, ‘Flame’. And although I seem to have taken a photograph that makes the flowers look for all the world like scarlet teddy bears, or possibly pigs, I really like the deep velvety red of Antirrhinum F1 ‘Liberty Classic Crimson’. But I have discovered to my cost that not only are not all reds the same, but some reds threaten to burn your retina. In short, I have discovered a red I cannot live with in my garden:

Scarlet Gladioli

This is my first year of growing Galdioli. I’ve always avoided planting anything that needs lifting each Autumn, feeling it was far too much like hard work. But then I fell in love with Dahlias. Since I already had to lift these I decided to try and inter-plant my Dahlias with Gladioli. As it turned out, I didn’t have room for all of them in the border, so I put the rest in deep pots. I have had limited success. Most of the bulbs planted in the border didn’t show at all, despite deep planting with plenty of grit in the base. Of those that did show, few bothered to flower. I don’t think they look good in the pots, partly because despite being planted very deeply, they require staking. I did really like ‘Plum Tart’, a gorgeous deep magenta. The one and only ‘Green Star’ that looks like flowering is currently in bud, so the jury is out. And then there is this. I’m not kidding, it hurts my eyes to look at it, although I’ve not really been able to capture the full horror with my camera. To add insult to injury, I ordered ‘Purple Flora’, described as a deep velvet purple. This, above, is what I got instead.

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’
Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

I’ve been puzzling over why I hate this colour so much. I think perhaps it is partly because it seems so flat. It lacks the velvety richness of the snapdragon, the texture of the Arctotis. It doesn’t really seem to have any depth, and there is no orange to it. After all, I love both Crocosmia‘ Emily McKenzie’ and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’. I don’t think the white streak on the petals helps either. it’s no good, it is going to have to go, to the compost heap if I can’t find someone who loves what I hate.

Veronicastrum in pond borderi

My second colour dilemma concerns the Veronicastrum virginicum shown above. It is a beautiful plant, described in the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Plants as having “whorls” of horizontal toothed leaves. I’ve lost the notebook that would have told me which particular variety it is, but it has beautiful flowers in early summer, racemes of white flushed with lilac. The colour issue is that I am in the process of revamping the pond border, a tale being told in the “end of month view” posts, and the plan is for more vibrant colour throughout the border for as much of the year as I can manage. I think the Veronicastrum flowers will be somewhat lost. Sadly I don’t have a picture of the blooms, because it flowered really poorly this year. Which brings me to the other reason that it needed relocation (though not to the compost heap!).

Although the pond border is heavy clay, the area where the Veronicastrum lives suffers from the effects of the roots of the nearby Silver Birches. For most of the year it has been sulking, its leaves very far from horizontal, and a near constant source of guilt to Yours Truly. It needs more reliably moist soil to thrive, so although I love the contrast between its leaves and the Miscanthus and Eupatorium it nestles between, which might have been enough for me to turn a blind eye to the colour issue, I have been puzzling over where to relocate it to.

I’d hoped to sort this out over the weekend, which was one of those perfect Autumn weekends of clear blue sky, sunshine and just enough of a snap in the air to let you know that the season was well and truly changing. Instead I spent the two days relocating belongings from a shipping container to the garage, and rearranging the dining room in preparation for a big family bash we have coming up. I have to confess that I kept stopping what I was doing to sneak into the garden to ponder plant placement. I also realised that my attitude to rearranging plants is not actually that dissimilar to my attitude to – and aptitude for – rearranging furniture. I’m quite happy to do it as often as it takes to get it right, what is right at one time will cease to be right at some later stage due to changing priorities or conditions, and I am not very good at visualising space. This last handicap means I frequently believe that I can cram more in than is actually advisable or visually comfortable.

Veronicastrum in Magnolia border

So here is my beloved Veronicastrum, relocated to an area with nice deep soil in semi shade, with plenty of elbow room. In the background you can see the queue for space in the compost heap, the result of the beginning of the autumn clear-up. Mind you, I am deliberately not the tidiest of gardeners, and was reminded why as I disturbed three frogs, one adult and two tiny, while working this morning. And my reward for spending the beautiful weather at the weekend in activities other than gardening was to clear and plant in drizzle under grey skies, hence the soggy nature of most of the pictures in this post. Needless to say it cleared up as soon as I had finished…

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6 Comments


  1. I hate to say this but any gardener who is a neat gardener is not really gardening IMHO. I enjoy seeing the gardening detritus on blogs so that I know it is for real. Thanks so much for showing it! And oh how I’d love to garden in drizzle or rain. We’ve not had any rain in like over a month. It is a very dusty and sad place here in my area.

    That veronicastrum is really something. One of my blogging friends here in the US has kindly offered to send me some. I am most happy and excited to receive some and will be ever so grateful if it grows to be half as big as yours.


    1. Hi Tina, always happy to oblige with a little gardening detritus ;-) I agree, though, it is nice to see some less than perfect bits on gardening blogs. it does keep it more real and a little less threatening! It can be a real temptation to only show the good bits, but I am finding I learn more through showing the imperfect bits. Wish I could pass on some of our current rain to you – all that dust must be getting you down by now.


  2. Interesting about the veronicastrum – I had a couple that sulked and sulked and I moved them every year. Finally they settled in a spot with morning sun, backed by a chamaecyparis and seem happy. I find reds difficult to fit in my own garden, but admire them in others – some have too much blue in them, I think. Those orangey reds in your pictures are really very nice!


    1. Hi Cyndy, thanks for dropping by! And so glad to know I am not the only person who has had sulky veronicastrum. Strangely enough, the one small plant of another variety seemed totally happy there. It had to go too, as it looked daft all alone and was also the wrong colour. Maybe it was OK because it went in to that spot a smaller size and established itself better, a little like trees, which often seem to thrive better if you plant them small.


  3. Your pictures are so vivid—-I’m jealous. I’d love to talk photography with you. I’m a garden fan—have a garden filled with lots of beautiful flowers. Great job.


    1. Thank you! Am happy to talk photography, but please don’t expect any wisdom – I just take a lot of shots on a lot of settings and try to learn. Pity my memory is so lousy… It’s a beautiful thing you are doing in your sister’s memory.

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